Thursday, February 25, 2010

3 x 5 Interview with Dren McDonald

In Fives:

What are five timbres/sounds/instruments of which you cannot get enough?

Banjo, running water, cello, my cats' nails walking on the hardwood floors, and my kids laughing (or wailing, cuz I'm whipping their ass...kidding, kidding).

Name five resources (equipment, people, etc.) without which you could not live (figuratively speaking, of course).

My wife, my kids, my parents, my right brain (the left side can eat my shorts), and my ears.

If you could speak with your five-year-old self, what would be one thing about your work now that would impress him/her/you? What is something you would find very interesting he/she/you wouldn’t?

It would be impressive to my five year old self that I could play/sing “Rubber Ducky” (Sesame Street) or the Speed Racer theme (the original cartoon) for them on guitar. My five year old self would probably find porn/microphones/compressors/preamps to be pretty boring. But we'll never know, cuz I wouldn't show him the porn.

In Fours:

When beginning a new project, what would you work to complete within four hours time?

If it was a musical project, working to script or picture, I'd probably spend that time finding the emotion of the piece and the instruments/voices that would get me there. It may take a lot longer, but that's usually where I'd start.

If you could categorize your work into four food groups, what would they be and why?

Veggies (I do a lot of midi programming/beat mapping for Tapulous), so, y'know, you gotta eat yer veggies. Desert (currently working on some demos for a musical). Meat alternative/tofu/tempeh etc (cuz my audio should not be responsible for the suffering of animals, I also try to avoid creating frequencies above 30,000khtz for this reason), peanut butter (music should be chewy, flexible, spreadable and delicious!)

What are four parameters of writing/working (e.g. timbre, rhythm, form, etc.) of which you are consistently conscious? Please explain.

This might not be what yer looking for, but this is what came to mind. Oddly enough, I'm very conscious of posture so I don't injure my back from all the sitting. Super boring, but kind of true. (FYI I use one of those goofy yoga balls, like Dwight Schrute).

It's good to be aware of the quality of your decision making at any given time. Creating music is really, a lot about making the best decisions at any given time, and being able to look ahead at what the net result of each decision will be (not unlike playing chess). If one is extremely tired, overworked, burnt, or conversely, maybe a bit too caffeinated, these states of being will affect the decision making process.

Work ahead of schedule. Caca pasa, as they say in Mexico, so it's good to always be working ahead of deadlines in case there's a problem (you get sick, someone you love gets sick, your computer gets sick, your studio gets flooded – which recently happened to me.)

None of those are very related to audio work specifically. So speaking musically, I guess I continue to ask myself, “Is the music I'm writing matching the project in terms of emotion/theme/place etc.” And obviously, I have to find the music interesting.

In Threes:

What are three things that consistently surprise you in working with music/audio?

1) How much there is to always learn. I could spend as much time experimenting/reading/learning every day as I could working. I wish I had a clone to do that while I worked.

2) The amazing quality of people in this field. Everyone I've met through GANG, GDC, and other various jobs etc, have been some super amazing people who I feel lucky to know. In my previous career in the music and music merchandise business, this wasn't so much the case.

3) When I’m working on something I love, I'm always surprised at how little sleep I seem to need.

If you had to choose between the following three free items, what would you chose and why?

A new instrument (if so, what), A 3-day recording session at the studio of your choice (if so, which studio), A performance of one of your works by a major ensemble (which work and which ensemble)

Tough one. There's a guy in town here who makes these beautiful fretless baritone banjos. That might be a candidate.

If you had a third arm to work, what would you use it to do?

Oh man, that's a loaded question.

In Twos:

Finish this rhyme with a phrase that describes you: two, four, six, eight…

he juggles verbs to conjugate!

Is it form over function or function over form? Briefly explain.

Whatever gets you there. It's usually never the same route.

Who would you prefer as your No. 2 and why? Robin (of Batman), Rocky the Squirrel, Ethel Mertz, Ed McMahon, Scottie Pippen or No. 2 (from Austin Powers)

Can I choose my wife? She has a cape. And boots. And can kick everyone’s ass. And isn't Bullwinkle Rocky's sidekick? Maybe that's nitpicking?

In Ones:

Please describe a project on which you have always wanted to work.

To work on something that a lot of people love. My friend, Steve Kirk wrote the Farmville theme, and 20 million people a day play that game. It would be very cool to have something like that, or the theme to the Simpsons or Andy Griffith Show in your songbook.

Please describe a project that served as a pivotal change in the development of your skill set.

The music for Fuzion was pretty sad, for the most part. About 30 minutes plus, of largely sad, creepy music (after recently completing about 30 plus minutes of music for a very happy, techno sidescroller game, I had to really switch gears fast). It could really be a soundtrack to the development cycle as much as it could for the game play. I hope that it gets released someday, but it really hit some roadblocks. Back on point, however, it took a while for me to get on target with the developer for the mood he wanted with the music. Lots of trading of mp3 files of related music (it started with trading Korn, Slayer and Eminem files, that whittled down to soundtrack pieces from Dexter and Twilight, so it evolved a lot before I even started writing music.) Once I got there, it was smooth sailing. But it was a great exercise in finding the mood/emotions/fictional world that the developer had imagined in his/her head, and then staying in that world to create a soundtrack for it. Reading that back to myself, it sounds a bit silly. Let's just say that the real secret to getting into the right vibe for this game was drinking lots of beer and listening to Mozart's Requiem and Swans every night before working...

If there were to be one thing in music/audio that you wish more people would try, what would that be?

Drinking lots of beer and listening to Mozart's Requiem and Swans every night before working...

oh, that's more than one. Lately I'm on a kick of using as many live musicians as possible. I'm fortunate to know a lot of excellent musicians, and here in the bay area, we have a huge amount of talent. Plus, I really enjoy collaborating with other musicians, getting their ideas, and helps me feel like I’m not working in my own little bubble. In concert with that, I'm always trying to come up with new sounds that I play live/mic'd (as opposed to playing sample libraries) – on a recent recording I played a homemade fretless baritone electric guitar with rubber mallets, and used a vintage, metal/wire phone stand for percussion. A lot of people can buy and use sample libraries, and it's a great tool to have. But I like to inject more of my personality thru those sorts of methods, in addition to what's available in the box.

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